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A very Zen UFO Report

The long-awaited Pentagon report on UFOs (officially known as Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (1) is a triumph of Zen expression. I say that because it says a lot while appearing to say nothing. “Very Zen,” as the saying goes.  

I have been studying UFOs since I was 10 years old, and I think I have a solid background on the topic, so I was very interested in this report.  At first, I was disappointed, but now I am not so sure. Let’s discuss it.

Why It Says Very Little

Let me be specific by first sharing why I would assert that it says nothing, or very little:

Compared with what the US government undoubtedly knows, not much was disclosed. When I first started investigating UFOs, I read a book about an extensive government inquiry into UFOs called Project Blue Book. It was written by Edward J. Ruppelt, the Air Force officer who oversaw the project by the same name in the 1950s. Here is what the National Archives entry says about the project today:

From 1947 to 1969, a total of 12, 618 sightings were reported to Project BLUE BOOK. Of these 701 remain “Unidentified.” The project was headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, whose personnel no longer receive, document or investigate UFO reports. (2)

Blue Book was comprehensive and thorough, and they did explain a lot of the sightings that had been reported to them. In spite of the rigor of their efforts, however, they could not explain about six percent of the reports.

By comparison, the Pentagon report only covers 144 sightings and those were made over a period between 2004 and 2021, when a new reporting system had been implemented. The new analysis did not include any material from Project Blue Book or any sightings that might have been investigated by the government between 1969 and 2004. This small sample size then becomes a rationale for being unable to draw any firm conclusions about UFOs, or as they call them, UAPs:

The limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions about the nature or intent of UAP. (3)

This circular reasoning is frustrating. It is like the old story of a person looking for a lost object under a streetlight because he can see better there, even though he knows he lost it somewhere else!

The Pentagon has changed the name from “Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)” to “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)”: Unidentified Flying Objects is a perfectly valid descriptive term that has been used for decades. After all, we are simply saying that we don’t know what they are, that they are flying, and they are objects. The phrase does not say that they are extraterrestrial spacecraft or anything else. The new definition retains the word “unidentified,” while substituting “aerial” for “flying” and “phenomena” for “objects,” without explaining why. We might think there is some reason for this change in nomenclature, but the report does not reveal why it has taken place, which is frustrating. 

When we look up the definitions of these terms, “aerial” and “flying” are not very different, but “objects” and “phenomena” are slightly shifted in meaning.

The definition of object is:

A material thing that can be seen and touched. (4)

Whereas, the definition of phenomena is:

A fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question.(5)

Thus, even though the authors of the report do not reveal the reason for the change, we can, to some degree, grasp it. “Object” implies something that is, without question, physically real, while “phenomena” focuses on questioning the cause or explanation. However, it would have been helpful if the report’s authors had offered an explanation.

The report finds that most of the sightings cannot be explained, and gives rather bland explanations of what they might be: Of the 144 sightings, only one was explained and that was a “deflated weather balloon.” By comparison with Project Blue Book, this study could only explain less than one percent of the total. It gives the impression, in my opinion, that the investigators didn’t try very hard. 

The other 143 explanations fell into five categories:

Airborne Clutter: Birds, balloons, recreational unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or airborne debris like plastic bags. 

Natural Atmospheric Phenomena: Including ice crystals, moisture, and thermal fluctuations that may register on some infrared and radar systems. 

USG or Industry Developmental Programs: “Some UAP observations could be attributable to classified programs by U.S. entities. We were unable to confirm, however, that these systems accounted for any of the UAP reports we collected.”

Foreign Adversary Systems: Technologies deployed by China, Russia, another nation, or a non-governmental entity. 

Other: “Although most of the UAP described in our dataset probably remain unidentified due to limited data or challenges to collection processing or analysis, we may require additional scientific knowledge to successfully collect on, analyze and characterize some of them.” (5)

It stretches credulity to imagine that if any of the unexplained sightings were “birds, balloons,” or similar objects, not one of them could be identified as such. I think the same is true of “natural atmospheric phenomena” and “US government programs.” Regarding the latter, this is The Government writing the report. Couldn’t they have found out from their colleagues if at least one of these sightings might be coming from our own government? Not knowing about the “foreign adversary systems” is understandable, but “Other” is about as vague a category as you can conjure up.

The report talks a lot about “needing more study,” but they have been studying this phenomenon at least since 1947. What else do they need? Any time I see a report that calls for more study, I ask myself, “Why?” With all the years that you have been aware of this topic, couldn’t you have come up with something more definitive? Is it the case that you really don’t want to do so, and “more study” is simply a cop-out?

All right, let me now say why I believe this report somewhat surprisingly says a lot.

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